Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 15, 2004
The Return of Jesus Christ
This morning we are going to take a short break in our study of Philippians
in order to expand on a theological subject that was brought up in our study of
Philippians 3:20,21 last week. In that passage Paul calls on the Philippian
believers to follow his example in living for God and “pressing on toward the
goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” In verse 20
he gives them one of the reasons for doing this. “For our citizenship is in
heaven.” Paul was calling on them to live according to what they actually
were in Christ. We discussed the meaning and ramifications of being a citizen of
heaven last week, so I will not repeat it again here except to say that the
Christian is even now a citizen of heaven though we are still on earth. All the
benefits and responsibilities belong to us now, though we will not be able to
experience all of them until we are in heaven. One of those benefits will be the
transformation of our physical bodies into spiritual bodies that will be like
Jesus Christ. The physical pains and limitations that are upon us now will be
done away with as we are transformed from perishable to imperishable, and from
mortal to immortal (1 Cor. 15).
Our topic today is based on Paul’s statement in verse 20 that we eagerly
wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, to return from heaven. Last week I
said that there are two aspects to Jesus’ return, but since Paul was only
dealing with the positive aspects in Philippians 3:20,21, that was all we dealt
with last week. This week I want to explain these two different aspects of
Jesus’ return and also touch on the timing of some of the events associated with
the different aspects of His return. I will not be giving a full explanation of
all this. There have been stacks and stacks of books written on this subject,
and there simply is not enough time in one sermon to cover it all. My goal is
simply to give you an overview and encourage you to be actively looking for our
blessed hope, the return of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first thing I want to establish is that there are two different aspects
to Jesus’ return. There are positive consequences for those who believe. There
are also negative consequences as the value of a believer’s works are judged and
also as the unbeliever is judged for condemnation. Some Bible passages mention
only one of these aspects while others mention both specifically, and still
others give just a general overview without clearly distinguishing either.
Jesus gave a general statement in Mark 14:61 when the High Priest questioned
Jesus whether He was the Christ. Jesus answered, “I am; and you shall see the
Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of
heaven.” He also gave a general statement in Matthew 16:27. He had just
explained to his disciples the cost of following him and the consequences for
those that do not. Jesus then said, “the Son of Man is going to come in the
glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man
according to his deeds.”
Jesus also gave many parables in which both aspects are in clear view. In
Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the ten virgins, we find reward for the five who
were prepared for the coming of the bridegroom and punishment for those that
were not. In the parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30, the same message is
given. Each servant was entrusted by the master with differing talents. Those
that used those talents in serving their master while he was gone were rewarded
when he got back. Those that did not were judged as “wicked, lazy slaves” and
were cast out. Jesus followed these two parables with specific teaching in
Matthew 25:31-46 that when He returned in His glory that He would judge and
separate the righteous from the wicked. The wicked are sent away to eternal
punishment while the righteous are received into eternal life.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Paul uses the promise of Jesus return as a source
of comfort to suffering believers and as a warning to those who had persecuted
them. “For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those
who afflict you, and [to give] relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well
when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in
flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those
who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Here we find that Jesus’
return would bring relief to the believers, but judgement on the unbelievers.
James 5:1-11 also speaks of both the positive and negative consequences of
Jesus’ return. In verse 1 he states, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for
your miseries which are coming upon you.” He then goes on to explain those
miseries and why they would be judged in such a manner. Then in verse 7 James
turns his attention to the righteous and tells them, “Be patient, therefore,
brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the
precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early
and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of
the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you
yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who
spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we count those blessed who endured.
You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s
dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and [is] merciful.”
The Positive Awaiting
There are also many passages that speak only specifically about the blessing
Jesus’ return will be for His followers. We saw several of these last week.
In John 14:1-4 Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in
God, believe also in Me. “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it
were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. “And if
I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself;
that where I am, [there] you may be also.” The blessing of being with Jesus
Philippians 3:21 tells us that Jesus will “transform the body of our
humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the
power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” The blessing of
having a body like Jesus that is imperishable and immortal.
Colossians 3:4 tells the believer that “when Christ, who is our life, is
revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” The blessing of
being revealed with Jesus in glory.
Paul speaks in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 about them and how they “turned to God
from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from
heaven, whom He raised from the dead, [that is] Jesus, who delivers us from the
wrath to come.” The blessing of being delivered from the wrath to come.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 dealt with their fears concerning those who had
already died. Paul told them that “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven
with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel, and with the trumpet of God;
and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain
shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,
and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” The blessing that all who belong
to Jesus will be taken to be with Him. No one is left behind.
Peter promises Elders that serve well as examples to their flock that
“when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory”
(1 Pet. 5:4). There is also the“crown of righteousness,” which “the
Lord, the righteous Judge, will award” “to all who have loved His
appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). The blessing of a reward from Jesus for service
All of these wonderful blessings are promised to the believer as part of what
will happen when Jesus’ returns for them.
The Negative Warning
Warnings to Believers
There are also warnings associated with Jesus’ return. Some warnings are
given to the believer.
1 John 2:28 tell us to “abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have
confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” John adds
in 3:3 that everyone that has this hope (of Jesus’ return and being changed to
be like Him) purifies Himself. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:14 to “keep
the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus
Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time.”
Paul speaks about a coming judging of a Christian’s works in several places.
In 2 Corinthians 5:9,10 he states that our ambition is to please the Lord
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be
recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether
good or bad.” Paul had explained more of the details of this back in 1
Corinthians 3:12-15 stating, “Now if any man builds upon the foundation with
gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become
evident; for the day will show it, because it is [to be] revealed with fire; and
the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work
which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s
work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so
as through fire.”
The Christian will not be judged himself, for there is no condemnation to
those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), but his works will be judged to
determine their value. If you are living for God and serving Him in the power of
the Holy Spirit, then the things you do will have eternal value. Anything you do
for yourself in the power of your own strength does not. This goes back to what
Jesus taught in Matthew 6:19-24. Are you laying up for yourself treasures on
earth which will pass away or treasures in heaven which will last for eternity?
Now it is important to point out here that all these passages I have
mentioned so far are stated without reference to any sign or event that must
take place before they occur. This is one reason for the belief in the imminent
return of Christ which we will talk about in a few minutes.
Warnings of World Tribulation
There are also Scriptures which give warning of a time of great tribulation
which will occur on the earth prior to Jesus’ return. This return is not
imminent for there is a list of events that must occur prior Jesus’ second
Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 all record the same occasion in which Jesus
speaks to his disciples who were admiring the Temple as they came out of
Jerusalem. He told them that “not one stone here shall be left upon another,
which will not be torn down” (Mt. 24:2). As they reached the Mount of Olives
opposite the Temple they asked Jesus, “tell us, when will these things be and
what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” It is very
important to note here that these questions concern the Old Testament prophecies
concerning Israel and the establishment of the millennial kingdom in which
Messiah would reign. The disciples were expecting this to occur very soon. They
did not foresee the church age in which we are now living. Jesus’ answer is
directed to the future of believing Israel, not the church.
In Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 Jesus describes His return as “the Son
of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn,
and they will see the son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and
great glory” (Mt. 24:30). Prior to this event there will be wars, famines,
earthquakes, persecution of His followers, false prophets, apostasy, apathy, the
Abomination of Desolation, a “great tribulation such as has not occurred
since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall,” the Sun and
Moon will be darkened and stars will fall. This is not a time anyone would want
to be here.
The book of Revelation covers this same time period and gives even more
details about it. Warning is given early in the book in the synopsis statement
in Revelation 1:7 which says, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and
every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the
earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen.” Jesus’ second coming will not be
an event that will escape the notice of men, and they will then mourn over Him.
Jesus is right there, so this is not mourning such as at funeral because you
miss the person. This is mourning over the consequences that come with His
return including the judgement that comes because of their rebellion against
Him. The rest of Revelation gives further details of God’s wrath being poured
out on the earth (chapters 6-18), Jesus’ return as conquering king (ch. 19), the
millennium and final judgement (ch. 20), and the creation of the new heaven and
new earth of eternity (ch. 21,22).
Warnings to Unbelievers
There are also many passages which warn unbelievers of God’s coming wrath and
judgement. Some are simple, direct statements such as when John the Baptist said
to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming to him for baptism, “You brood
of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7). He
then went on to tell them that if their repentance was real, they needed to
bring forth the fruit in keeping with repentance. There were also the woes Jesus
pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees which included the fact that they were
currently under the sentence of hell (Matt. 23).
There are many today that scoff at the idea of Jesus returning to judge.
They, like those Peter speaks of in 2 Peter 3:4 say, “Where is the promise of
His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was
from the beginning of creation.” The basic argument is that there is no hard
evidence of God intervening in the affairs of men, therefore He will not do so
in the future. They reject the history recorded in the Bible as fables, but the
hard evidence is all around us. The geologic record cries out that God did
intervene in the affairs of men and sent a world wide flood. The vast majority
of all sedimentary rocks were deposited in that flood and in the immediate years
afterward. It filled the world with a plethora of fossils. Evolution is a
bankrupt idea which cannot even begin to explain how so many fossils were
formed. God’s patience should lead them to repentance and salvation (Rom. 2:4; 2
Peter 3:15), but too many just use it as a reason to scoff. But Jesus will
return with judgement upon those who have rejected His gospel, but with
salvation to those that believe.
This brief review shows that there are two different aspects to Jesus’
return. One aspect deals with Christians and presents Jesus’ return as a
blessing for them, though they are also warned to live in righteousness to they
will not be ashamed at His coming. The other aspect deals with the coming
judgement of unbelievers and God’s wrath being poured out on the earth. But
there is a conflict between these two aspects that needs to be reconciled. Some
passages present Jesus’ return as something that could happen at any moment.
Other passages describe many specific events that will take place before the Son
of Man will return on the clouds with great power and glory. How are these two
different aspects reconciled?
The Nature of Jesus’ Return
Jesus’ promised return is actually a series of events which begins with a
partial return in order to catch up, or rapture, Christians, which is then
followed by a series of events and then ends with a full return with His saints
as conquering king and the establishment of His millennial reign. The confusion
arises because the scriptures varying in their presentation ranging from only
one or a few specific events (such as rapture in 1 Thess. 4:16,17) to everything
as a whole (2 Peter 3). This is actually very similar to the Old Testament
prophecies about Jesus’ first and second comings that caused confusion for even
Jesus’ disciples. Some prophecies focused on things that would occur in the
period between Jesus’ incarnation and His resurrection while others focused on
events related to the establishment of His millennial reign, and still others
combined aspects of both together. The placement of many of the particulars of
these prophecies could not be determined until after Jesus’ resurrection, but it
was extremely difficult, if not impossible to discern that until then. The same
is true as we strive to figure out the exact sequence of events to take place in
the future. It is very difficult, if not impossible to do so now, but it will
all make sense once Jesus has established His Millennial kingdom.
So what do we know now about the future? There is not enough time left this
morning to go into great detail, but I can give you a brief overview.
Rapture. We know that Jesus’ return to rapture the Church is imminent.
By rapture I am referring to the event Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17
in which all those in Christ, both dead and alive, are “caught up together”
“in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” The term “rapture” is from a
Latin term used for “caught up.”
By “imminent” I mean that this event will occur suddenly, unexpectedly and
cannot be calculated. It could occur at any time. Nothing must happen first.
Without going into all the technical details, we believe Jesus’ return is
1) Many verses, such as those cited earlier concerning Jesus’ return being a
blessing to believers, present His return without any qualification of anything
else having to occur first.
2) Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:35-40 to His disciples was that they were to be
in readiness uses terminology of nearness. Jesus uses the analogy of being like
a servant who is ready to “immediately open the door to him when he comes and
knocks,” and that they were to “be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at
an hour that you do not expect.” Jesus uses similar language is used in
3) Jesus’ promise in John 14:3 is in the present tense instead of future.
Darby’s translation is more accurate here saying, “and if I go and shall
prepare you a place, I am coming again and shall receive you to
myself, that where I am ye also may be.” This gives a sense that He is
already on His way.
4) In 1 Thess. 5:2 Paul says the “day of the Lord will come just like a
thief in the night.” This speaks of a sudden and unpredictable return of
Christ. The immediate context in chapter 4 is the rapture.
5) In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 Paul includes himself (we) as one of those
that might be alive who would be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Paul
indicates the same thing in 1 Cor. 10:11 for he includes himself as one “upon
whom the ends of the ages have come.” Paul had the same hope for his
co-workers. In 1 Timothy 6:13,14 he told Timothy to continue to live righteously
without reproach “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
6) Paul states in Philippians 4:5 that “the Lord is near”(at hand).
7) James 5:1-11 tells believers to be patient, but also presents the “the
coming of the Lord is at hand,” and Jesus as the “Judge standing right at
8) Hebrews 10:37 tells us that “For yet in a very little while, He who is
coming will come, and will not delay.”
9) One of the analogies recorded by John in Revelation 3:3 is that Jesus
would “come like a thief” and they would not know what hour He would come
upon them. Again, a sudden and unpredictable return.
10) A final indicator of imminence I will mention today due to our time
limitations is that the coming of Jesus will deliver the Christian from the
wrath to come. In 1 Thess. 1:10 Paul uses the first person plural “us” showing
that he thought he might still be alive and therefore included in those so
delivered. Paul also uses a present participle here giving the sense that this
is wrath that is already on its way and could arrive at anytime.
I must point out that the rapture is not an escape from persecution, for “all
who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
It is a deliverance from the “wrath of God”which comes upon the unbelieving
world during the 70th week of Daniel, also commonly referred to as
the Tribulation period.
Tribulation. Subsequent to the rapture of the church will be the final
70th week of Daniel 9:27. This is a period of 7 years that completes
the 490 year period decreed concerning the nation of Israel, and it begins with
a firm covenant Israel makes with the anti-Christ. The events recorded in
Revelation and those predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 all
occur during this time period as do all the “woes” of the seal, trumpet and bowl
judgements of Revelation 6-18. Its purpose is to pour out the “wrath of the
Lamb” (Rev. 6:16,17). At the end of this period Jesus Christ returns with His
army of saints (Rev. 19:14; Jude 1:14; Zech. 14:5) and establishes His kingdom
of a thousand years.
Millennium. Revelation 20 specifically references six different times
a period of one thousand years in which Satan would be bound and Christ would
reign with His saints. Those who either deny or redefine the millennium destroy
not only the plain reading of Revelation 20, but also all the Old Testament
prophecies that are still to be fulfilled concerning the restoration of Israel
and the reign of Messiah from Jerusalem over the earth. Passages such as
Zechariah 14:16-21; Isaiah 2:1-4; ch. 11, 12 & 65; Jeremiah 31:31-40; etc. The
Millennium ends with the release of Satan followed by his deception of the
nations and leading a final rebellion against God which God then destroys (Rev.
20:7-10; Ezek. 38,39). This is followed by the Great White Throne judgement of
Revelation 20:11-15 in which all whose names are not in the book of life are
judged according to their deeds and they are then cast into the lake of fire
where Satan and his followers had already been cast. This is the final judgement
which results in eternal condemnation and punishment.
Eternity. The Great White Throne judgement is followed by the events
that establish eternity recorded in Revelation 21 & 22. This includes God’s
creation of a new heaven, a new earth and a new Jerusalem which is inhabited
only by the righteous, God’s bond-servants whose names are in the Lamb’s book of
life. It is a beautiful place in which a river of water flows from the throne of
God. On either side of that river is the tree of life bearing its fruit. There
shall no longer be any curse or night, for God is there and His glory illumines
In conclusion I want to remind you of what I said at the beginning.
Time does not permit in this format a detailed study of all the events
related to Jesus’ return. I have only tried to give you an overview of them and
encourage you to be actively looking for our blessed hope, the return of our
savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. There are stacks of books written on the end
times, the nuances of meaning of all the Scripture passages and the sequencing
of all the events that will occur. It is a complex subject that can be very
difficult to understand, much less master, and there are pieces to this puzzle
that God has not given to us. While such study is good and proper, for we should
strive to understand what God has revealed, tragically, there are those that
become proud and insist that everyone else agrees with them. They then fight
about things that are unclear in Scripture and of minor importance even to the
point of withholding fellowship from those that disagree. That is simply wrong.
Perhaps that is why 2 Peter 3 is my favorite passage concerning Jesus’ return.
Peter begins the chapter correcting those who scoff at the promise of the
Lord’s return by pointing out God’s previous judgement upon man at the time of
Noah’s flood. Then, in verse 9, he points out the Lord’s longsuffering of
mankind saying, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count
slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all
to come to repentance. Jesus has not returned yet because it is mercy on
unbelievers in giving them yet more time to repent.
Then, in verse 10 Peter summarizes all the end time events by the term “day
of the Lord” and jumps from its first event to nearly the last in one swift
glance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the
heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with
intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. The Lord’s
return will come suddenly, unexpectedly and unpredictably like a thief and the
events that start with that return eventually resulting in the destruction of
all that we currently know.
Peter then challenges us in verse 11 & 12, “Since all these things are to
be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct
and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on
account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will
melt with intense heat! In short, why spend your life trying to gain the
things of this world when you know it will all be burned up in the end? Or to
paraphrase Jesus in Matthew 6, don’t let your treasure be here on earth where it
will be destroyed, lay up your treasure in heaven.
Peter brings out the promise of heaven in verse 13, “But according to His
promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness
dwells.” He concludes in verse 14,15 with a call to holiness because of that
hope. “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be
found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our
Lord to be salvation.”
That is my conclusion and call to you. Don’t waste your precious life
pursuing the things of this world. Keep your eyes on heaven where your
citizenship lies and from which our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, will return.
He will bring blessings upon His followers in changing us and rewarding us for
our faithful service to Him and delivering us from His wrath which will then be
poured out on an unbelieving world.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives.
Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the
sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the
sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times Jesus’ return is
mentioned. Talk with your parents about how the promise of Jesus’ return effects
your life now.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What are the two aspects to Jesus’ return? What do the parables and
conclusion in Matthew 25 teach us? What are some of the things promised to
believers upon Jesus’ return? What are some of the warnings given to believers
concerning Jesus’ return? Discuss the warnings given in Matthew 24 and
Revelation about the coming world tribulation. Are there other warnings of this
same time period? What warnings are given to unbelievers about Jesus’ return?
Why are there so many different views and opinions about Jesus’ return and the
events that surround it? What is the rapture? Why do we believe it is imminent?
Why do others believe other things must happen first? What are the weaknesses of
those views? What is the “Tribulation?” Why is Daniel 9:24-27 so important in
understanding it? What is its purpose? What will occur during that period? What
is the Millennium? What happens then? How does it end? What must be believed and
done in order to deny a literal millennial reign by Jesus Christ? What happens
in eternity? Why is 2 Peter 3 a good summary of eschatology? How are you living
now in holiness & godliness? conduct?
Sermon Notes – August 15, 2004
The Return of Jesus – Selected Scriptures
The Positive Awaiting
The Negative Warning
Warnings to Believers
Warnings of World Tribulation
Warnings to Unbelievers
The Nature of Jesus’ Return
The Rapture & Imminence